Jimmy Mak's - Tuesday, June 13, 2006
The Mel Brown Septet
Mel Brown - Drums
Stan Bock - Trombone, Euphonium
Andre St. James - Bass
Renato Caranto - Tenor Saxophone
Derek Sims (& Thara Memory rotate) - Trumpet
Jof Lee (for Gordon Lee) - Piano
John Nastos (for Warren Rand) - Alto Saxophone
Jimmy Mak's had been closed for 8 weeks, so it was especially exciting to finally see the new club in its new location. Walking into the elegant foyer filled me with expectation and I was not disappointed. The club is stunning. Swank meets hip. It feels spacious, yet intimate. The warm, caramel colored walls glow with the soft light from sconces, and cylindrical light fixtures in red and orange drop down from a black ceiling. The walls are hung with original artwork. The street-side wall is all window. The designer created five corner booths, and padded benches line three walls. At the back there are two large booths that can seat ten each, and they've set small tables around, so people can get in and out without making everyone scoot. The bar is tastefully designed, as well, and not so big as to draw a large, potentially noisy crowd. There's a long, narrow balcony, with an exposed brick wall, that feels like a hideaway.
Mel's name is on a plaque on the front wall. A deep red, crushed velvet curtain hangs behind the band, making them look like royalty. And how befitting. Mel Brown is royalty in the jazz community. He helped revitalize the Portland jazz scene, along with Leroy Vinnegar, in the ‘90's. He plays five regular gigs a week, three of them at Jimmy Mak's. He has a quartet, a funky B3 organ quintet, and the Septet, which I am here to see. Tonight, Jof Lee takes Gordon Lee's place on piano, and John Nastos sits in for Warren Rand on alto sax. John is a student at the Manhattan School of Music who is home for the summer.
J.D. welcomes us to the new Jimmy Mak's, and as expected, we don't make enough noise to suit him and he says we're going to have to do better than that, which we do. It's great to see their longtime staff, Nikki, Kara and Emilie, again. I see people I know and familiar faces in the audience. A lot of kids are there. Serious kids, who are musicians themselves, rapt, watching the professionals. I'm right up front and worry about it being too loud, but because of the superior sound system it's just fine.
Mel begins with a drum roll and they're off. No songs are announced, just an hour of intense hard bop, calling out tunes on the fly. Brent Geske, a keen observer of the Septet for over two years helped me with song titles. During the first two, Ugetsu and Bolivia, Derek, Renato, Jof and Stan trade solos, and Andre has a long solo to a hushed audience. John receives the biggest applause of the night for his solo on Bolivia. Mel's extended solo takes them into the marching rhythm of Blues March. Renato's remarkable tenor becomes bluesy and Stan answers back with trombone and plunger. Andre segues into All Blues and Derek is featured, with his warm, clear tone on trumpet. Stan is on Euphonium and the tune becomes symphonic. On Moose the Mooche, they trade short, lively solos and Jof has a fun romp on the keyboard while Andre elicits whoops from the audience. Mel displays a powerful solo, Art Blakey style. Stan is featured on his beautiful composition, Night Flight from Nairobi. They swing hard at the end of the set, and Stan closes it with scatting.
I gave co-writer and photographer, Redd Williams, a ride home during the break and decided to go back. I got to hear Summertime, and Farnell Newton sat in on a bluesy tune, both highlights. Renato and Mel later put on a powerful display. What a dynamic pairing that was. Mel shows us why this is his club.
Jimmy Mak's has a full menu of outstanding Mediterranean fare. I highly recommend making dinner reservations. Non-smoking. Minors are welcome 8-9pm Mon-Sat. No cover Monday, $6 Tuesday, $5 Wednesday & Thursday. Cover varies Friday & Saturday. Jimmy Mak's is located at 221 NW 10th. 503-295-6542. www.jimmymaks.com